The 5 Most Embarrassing Failures in the History of War
We really don't get enough stories about incompetent soldiers. Think about it: It's a real disservice to war heroes if we never give people anything to compare them to. The very reason bravery and quick wits under fire are to be celebrated is because they're rare.
So let's take a moment to celebrate some of the hilariously stupid shit that goes on in the name of war.
The Australian Army Loses to Emus
In 1932, Australian farmers had a problem: A gigantic flock of birds had migrated into their land and were obliterating their wheat crops. And this being Australia, these particular birds were unlikely to be intimidated by a dude made of straw and old clothes. They were emus: flightless, 6-foot-tall eating machines that had decided to take over the local farmlands. And there were 20,000 of them.
The situation quickly escalated to the point where you could barely see the fields from scores of Big Birds lounging around. And since the problem was downright cartoonish, the farmers opted to solve it in an appropriately Wile E. Coyotesque way: They asked for military assistance.
That is how Major G.P.W. Meredith of the Royal Australian Artillery found himself leading two regiments of battle-hardened soldiers, complete with some big-ass heavy machine guns, to unleash hell on a bunch of helpless birds.
And thus began Bird War One.
This did not go well.
The very first clash of the operation proved that the emus were gifted in the art of guerrilla tactics in a way that would make the Jurassic Park velociraptors break out into spontaneous applause. Herding them together for easy pickings proved near impossible, and they scattered in every direction the second the first bullets flew. Only a handful of birds succumbed to the worst hail of bullets the troops could offer -- the others vanished into the scenery without a trace. What's more, many of the birds that ran away with zero difficulty had clearly sustained hits. They just didn't give a shit about bullets.
"I've got more balls in my beak than your whole damn battalion!"
Meredith, in no doubt the proudest moment of his military career, decided to set up a proper military ambush at a local dam in order to surprise a group of 1,000 emus. Once again, the birds scattered and slipped away. This scenario repeated itself until Meredith's I've-Had-Enough-of-This-Shit-O-Meter reached critical levels. He mounted one of the machine guns on the back of a truck in order to hunt the emus down and just flat out drive-by the bastards, gangsta style.
The emus easily outran the truck and led it over such rough terrain that the gunner didn't even manage a single shot. The chase ended when the truck crashed through a fence, because at that point the universe was just throwing Looney Tunes tropes at them. Having had their share of humiliation, the weary soldiers had no option but to admit defeat after a week's combat. The score: 10,000 fired rounds and less than 1,000 dead emus. Here's what Meredith had to say about his avian enemy:
"If we had a military division with the bullet-carrying capacity of these birds, it would face any army in the world. They could face machine guns with the invulnerability of tanks."
"You think I'm afraid of you? I eat my own shit, boy!"
Are you imagining a war fought entirely with armed emus? Let's all take a few minutes to do that now.
Pilots Dip Their Choppers in a Lake ... for Facebook
To even be allowed behind the stick of a military aircraft, you have to prove yourself to be a confident, level-headed type who won't steal a plane and go strafe your ex-girlfriend's house. So when two experienced Navy helicopter pilots had a close encounter with Lake Tahoe in 2010, causing half a million dollars' worth of damage, everybody wondered just what went wrong. It's all on video, and it looks like it could have been much worse than it was:
The helicopters are hovering over the water, and then one suddenly takes a dip, like a giant Oreo made of spinning blades. To be clear, the machines are in no way designed to do that -- what you're seeing is a helicopter pilot's near-death experience. So what could have caused two highly trained pilots to surface-hover with a chopper model that's not even designed for such activity? Were they attempting some kind of crazy rescue attempt?
It was a military training exer- wait, what?
Facebook. It was Facebook.
The pilots dunked their multimillion-dollar aircraft in the lake while attempting to take cool pictures to post on their Facebook wall.
In what may be the strangest case of a simultaneous brainfart in military history, both pilots decided to neglect this whole "flying" thing in favor of holding their camera phones with one hand and attempting to make a duckface. As a result, the two helicopters rapidly lost altitude and took a swim. Luckily, they were both able to regain altitude and get back to base, with enough damage to the aircraft to wipe out all of the federal taxes you'll ever pay.
It's OK though, that money probably would have been wasted on body armor or wounded veterans anyway.
After a no doubt interesting investigation, both pilots were stripped of their flight status. Presumably, they also had to stick with that boring old profile picture of them using a submarine periscope as a bong.
The British Navy Accidentally Sink Their Own Best Ship
HMS Victoria was a massive warship that was built for one purpose and one alone: to turn Britain's enemies on the sea into Britain's enemies under the sea. Designed to be the flagship of their Mediterranean fleet, the Royal Navy spared no expense in making Victoria terrifyingly unstoppable. With its 17-inch armor, state of the art engines and two 110-ton guns built into one massive turret, the ship was essentially the Death Star of the seas.
"We shall call this gun ... the Nauticock."
Yeah, with all the hoo-hah surrounding it, HMS Victoria was always pretty much destined to become a connoisseur of the finer textures of the ocean bottom. The real embarrassment factor came in how it happened: In 1893, the Brits accidentally sunk HMS Victoria all by themselves. With a flashy parade maneuver.
You can't quite see it, but all the men on deck are flipping God the bird right now.
It must have seemed like such a good idea at the time. After all, the massive ship was completely seaworthy and presided over by Vice Admiral George Tryon, a known master of complicated ship handling. As they were pulling into Tripoli, Tryon decided to show off his fleet's capabilities and designed a display for the masses gathered on the shores, in a manner not unlike a skateboarder impressing onlookers with a perfectly executed frontside ollie.
The idea was that the 10 ships under his command would head directly away from port in two parallel columns, then turn 180 degrees to meet in the middle and head back to port in perfect formation. Correctly executed, it would have looked pretty sweet:
The problem is that both wide receivers button hooked when one should have been drawing the cornerback deep.
However, Tryon evidently sucked at math. Both lead ships -- Victoria and HMS Camperdown -- had a minimum turning radius of 800 yards, meaning they needed to be over 1,600 yards apart to pull off the stunt. Tryon, despite the frantic protests of his underlings, set their distance at 1,200 yards.
In what must've been the biggest, most drawn-out "oh shit" moment in the history of naval prancing, everyone except Tryon watched in horror as Victoria and Camperdown drew closer and closer, until the latter rammed into Victoria's side and ripped it open like a weaponized iceberg. At that point reality finally dawned on Tryon, if only because he happened to be onboard Victoria himself.
For the rest of the day, you'll imagine this man doing boardslides with a warship.
HMS Victoria's turret full of giant guns immediately proved the dangers of overcompensation. The weight dragged the damaged ship down nose first, burying it deep in the silt. It sank so hard that its recovery remains impossible to this day.
Guam Tries to Borrow Ammunition from the Enemy
In the first stages of the Spanish-American War, USS Charleston was ordered to capture the Spanish island of Guam. They were running on a schedule, too -- they had been given only two days to complete this mission.
When they finally reached Guam, time was running short. With every reason to expect heavy resistance, they fired 13 shots at the shore fort of Santa Luz and waited for a response.
"Sir, you are sending the ammo too quickly for us to catch! Perhaps it would be easier to just hand it to us?"
The Spanish response was not the expected barrage of cannon fire and creative swearing. Instead they sent a single small ship, carrying a Spanish officer who politely asked permission to come aboard.
Out of curiosity, they let him. The Spaniard politely welcomed USS Charleston to Guam. Then, he thanked them for their lovely 13-shot salute ... and apologized that they had not saluted back as they were completely out of gunpowder. He proceeded to earnestly ask if the Americans would lend him some so they could return the favor.
Which prompted this expression from every crew member on board, simultaneously.
After what had to have been one of the most hilariously awkward conversations in the history of warfare, a confused and presumably very annoyed Spanish officer informed the Americans that Spain had never bothered to inform Guam that they were at war with the U.S. at all, and that in fact several battles had already occurred. This would be why, for instance, they didn't bother stocking up on gunpowder.
This is how the strategically important island surrendered without firing a single shot, presumably because a "WE ARE AT WAR" email got stuck in Guam's spam folder.
Stonewall Jackson Is Gunned Down by His Own Men
When General Lee split his troops during the battle, he gave Jackson the all-important task of attacking the Union flank. Stonewall obliged by raising his trademark hell, tearing through the opposition like the unstoppable force of nature that he was. He only stopped his attack because nightfall made it too dark for accurate dick punching.
"Don't fire until you see the bulge in their pants!"
Look, friendly fire is going to happen. Real war isn't like a video game -- there are no icons hovering over your teammates' heads. But there is friendly fire and then there is accidentally shooting one of the most legendary generals in the history of warfare.
It happened thanks to Jackson's typical bravado. He had a mind to take the fight to the enemy the second he could, and was keen on running reconnaissance on the Union's formations. So keen, in fact, that he just couldn't wait for any actual intelligence officers to gather the knowledge he desired, let alone wait for them to explain that shit to him. No, he was going to ride out and do the spying himself.
Presumably while yelling "I am a spy! I am spying directly upon you!"
So out beyond the Confederate lines he rode, accompanied by just a small entourage. When one of his officers pointed out that wandering out beyond your own lines in the aftermath of a battle at night might be a tad dangerous, Jackson assured the man that it was all good and ordered him to go and tell everyone to prepare for opening yet another tin of whoop-ass on the enemy, Stonewall style.
However, Jackson failed to realize two very important things.
Thing number one: Your average soldier isn't Stonewall Jackson, or even all that brave. He's cold, and tired, and hungry, and terrified out of his skull of the darkness beyond his picket. And most importantly, he's scared enough to fire at any suspicious movement -- especially if said movement rides directly toward him at high speed, booming that he's your own high commander.
It didn't help that he changed his name every time he thought of a cool new one. This time it was "Punchbeard Solowar."
Thing number two: Jackson was now coming in from the exact direction these men were pointing their guns.
Thus, Stonewall and his returning party were greeted with gunfire the very second Confederate sentries saw him. The general took three bullets, had an arm amputated and succumbed to operation-induced pneumonia eight days later. And that's how a few random sentries wound up with an incredibly awkward story to tell their families back home.
For more real-life scenarios that could've been set to Yakety Sax, check out 6 People Who Faked Their Own Death (For Ridiculous Reasons) and 5 Movie Martial Artists That Lost a Deathmatch to Dignity.